Chances are that if you’ve heard just one Swedish word, it’s fika. At its simplest, a fika is the snack
you grab to get you through to lunchtime, your mid-morning coffee and cinnamon bun (aka
kanelbulle). But stay in Sweden for any length of time and it’ll soon become clear that fika is so
much more than just the humble bulle; it is an important part of life which both creates and sustains
two of the most appealing aspects of Swedish life – togetherness and downtime.
When it comes to Swedish fika, seven really is a lucky number, with traditional etiquette suggesting
that sju sorters kakor (seven kinds of cake) be served at fika time. Among the most common
favourites are the wonderfully named kolasnittar, schackrutor and hallongrottor – caramel slices,
chessboard cookies and jam-filled raspberry ‘caves’. Bullar, buns, are also firm favourites, with
cinnamon and cardamom the classics, and varieties such as blueberry, apple and even pistachio
Whether you’re in Uppsala for work, study or family, fika will become a big feature of your daily life.
As an employee, you’ll discover that each workplace has its own fika habits, and you may even be
asked to be part of a fika rota, offering you the chance to scour the town for something tasty or
indeed show off your baking skills to your new workmates. The fika room is often a central part of
workplace life, and people really tend to take and make the most of their break, and it can even be
somewhat of a faux pas to regularly work through your break.
IN Uppsala spoke to Jill Leckie, Editor-in-Chief of Littlebearabroad, Stockholm’s digital magazine for international families in Sweden, and asked her what role she felt fika played in the Swedish society.
For me, to "fika", in its perfect verb form, is to take a pause from whatever you are doing and socialise with your family, friends, work colleagues or acquaintances ... It's a socially acceptable opportunity to get more personal with work colleagues or gossip with family members. It's the space in which grand plans for the weekend are hatched and afterwork beers are agreed. If you want to make friends with a bunch of Swedes, bake some buns and make a pot of coffee. You'll be set up with a social life for the next 6 weeks.
As Jill points out, coffee tends to be the Swedish drink of choice alongside fika, and it is usual in cafés to serve your own coffee from the freshly brewed pots. Since 1891 Uppsala has had its very own coffee roastery, Lindvalls Kaffe, and as a kunglig hövleverantör, aka official supplier to Sweden’s royal family, it’s no surprise that their excellent coffee is popular in the city’s cafés.
If you are fika-ing on a budget or simply need that extra caffeine hit, opt for a simple bryggkaffe which usually comes with complementary påtår or top-up. And whilst påtår will quickly become part of your everyday vocabulary in Sweden, even your Swedish friends might not know that the terms tretår, krusetår and pintår were traditionally used to specifically describe your third, fourth and fifth coffee refill. What’s not to love about a language with words for lingering over your coffee?
And indeed, the plethora of fika related terms (did I even mention bullfika, fikabröd, fikapaus or fikadags yet?!), does rather hint at the importance of this phenomenon in Swedish life. Linda Gidlund is an Uppsala based artist and baking enthusiast who was one of the 12 contestants in 2016’s TV success ‘Hela Sverige Bakar’ (the Swedish version of ‘The Great British Bakeoff’). She told IN Uppsala what fika meant to her.
Fika can mean so many different things, depending on who you are as a person. It is the way we meet people; best friends, family, sometimes even total strangers. Fika means no pressure - often we say, "hey let's catch up" even though we don't really have the time, but for fika, there’s always time.
Linda also hints that if life right now is so hectic that you really can’t make plans with someone, suggesting a fika ‘sometime’ can be a handy get-out or face-saver! She points out, too, that fika can be a cosy brunch, or even a business meeting, so even if coffee and cakes aren’t your thing, you’ll find something that works for you. With the soaring popularity of vegan food in Uppsala, numerous specialist tea shops in the city (check out Tehörnan on Svartbäcksgatan, handily located opposite the English Bookshop!) and the supersized knäckebröd or savoury cracker aisle in every supermarket, you’ll be sure to find your fika favourites in no time.
But if you are new in town and wondering where to get your classic fika fix, here’s five of central Uppsala’s top picks.
Best for luxury
Oozing decadence and always bustling, Güntherska Hovkonditori and Schweizeri, on the banks of the Fyris River is an absolute must for a truly special fika. With exquisitely crafted cakes and tarts, and speciality sourdough sandwiches amongst their signature dishes, visitors to Güntherska are spoiled for choice. It is no surprise to learn that 2016’s Årets Konditor (Pastry Chef of the Year), Frida Leijon, was at Güntherska at the time of her win – and she even worked with two others to create the Royal Wedding cake when Sweden’s Prince Carl Phillip married Princess Sofia in 2015. So for a really regal fika, Güntherska is the place to go!
Best for history lovers
18th Century botanist Carl Linneaus is one of Uppsala University’s most notable alumnus. Widely regarded as the father of modern botany, Linneaus used to take his students on botanical excursions in the area, and his carefully selected trails remain available for nature lovers to walk today – check out the Linnéstigarna. His former home, too, is open to visitors over the summer months and is located on Svartbäcksgatan, a quirky street bustling with independent boutiques and eating places. Directly opposite Linneaus’s house is a café named in his honour, Café Linné. Cosy and charming with more than just a touch of yesteryear, this popular place serves up sumptuous cakes, bullar and desserts alongside great value lunches, allowing you to cosy up and savour the street’s history.
Best for foodies
Proud to be a family business and even prouder supporters of Uppsala’s newly promoted football club IK Sirius, Triller Mat och Bröd serve their fantastic fika and locally sourced food at five locations in the Uppsala area. Most central is their large, bright café, Kardemumma, located at the city’s main library. With stylish décor and traditional tiled Swedish stoves in some corners, Kardemumma does ‘everyday luxury’ perfectly. Don’t miss out on their creatively designed cream filled bakelse with frequently changing flavours and designs to reflect seasons, festivals and even Sirius’s achievements! Pop in to Triller’s St Olofsgatan shop for delicious bread to take home, and keep an eye out for barista Axel’s quirky hand drawn ad posters outside.
Best for a family friendly quick bite
Sandy’s must surely win the prize for having the friendliest and most cheerful social media accounts in the city, with their popular Instagram frequently featuring their regular customers and well-trained staff. Well known for their smiles and winning customer service, this popular café is the perfect place to grab a quick coffee and cake if you’re running errands in the city centre, and their loyalty cards for both fika and their excellent lunches mean that it’s worth visiting often! They even have a phone charging station so you can top up your batteries while you top up your caffeine levels.
Best for shoppers
Easy to miss, but hard to forget, Broströms Kafé is located adjacent to Uppsala’s Central Station in the beautifully spacious, high ceilinged Godsmagasinet, the old goods warehouse. Newly renovated, and serving wonderful lattes and an imaginative range of cakes, sandwiches and light meals, Broströms is somewhat of a hidden gem. Godsmagasinet is also home to Kaleido Konsthandverk, an arts and crafts collective with a broad range of beautifully designed pieces and exhibitions by local craftspeople, and Stickspåret, two boutiques under the same roof offering an eclectic range of stylish gifts, homewares and clothing. And with Broströms nestled directly between the two, it makes the perfect location for a relaxing morning’s shopping-fika.
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